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The Metamorphoses

The Metamorphoses


by Ovid

The Metamorphoses Foolishness and Folly Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation, but these citations refer not to the lines in Mandelbaum's edition, but to the original Latin.

Quote #7

[Medea] said: "Why do you hesitate? Act now!
Take up these swords and drain the old blood out,
that I may fill his veins with vibrant blood.
Your father's life and youth depend on you.
If you have filial love for him, the prove
your hopes are more than empty gestures: do
this service for your father; let your blades
expel the rot and rid him of foul age!"
Spurred by the witch's words, each girl was keen
to be most pious through impiety –
most pure by rushing to impurity.
And yet no daughter dared to watch as she
brought down her blade: all turned their eyes away;
backs turned, they hacked; their savage strokes were blind. (7.332-342)

To us modern readers, the daughters of Pelias may seem exceptionally foolish. On the other hand, even today, there is no shortage of people who will seek out bizarre or dangerous medical treatments in the hopes it will give them health and long life.

Quote #8

How often my petitions were repelled;
how often she replied: 'I save myself
for one alone; wherever he may be,
it's he who'll share my joy!' Could any man
whose mind was not awry have failed to see
in that, firm proof of her fidelity?
But I was still not satisfied. I kept
insisting (harming only my own self);
for just one night, I promised countless wealth;
and then I added gift on gift – until
I forced her to the point where she might fall. (7.734-740)

This story is told by Cephalus, who explains the destruction caused by his obsessive fear that his wife was unfaithful to him. Here, Ovid might me making a subtle point based on the character's name. That's because "Cephalus" means "head," and his folly is a type that intellectuals are especially prone to: unable to take anything at face value, he keeps pressing onward and onward and onward until he reaches…not the truth, but the state of affairs that his own aggressiveness has brought about. Because Ovid is one of the most intellectual ancient writers, this story of Cephalus may be interpreted as one of the first in a long Western tradition of intellectual self-criticism, going all the way to Shakespeare's Hamlet and beyond.

Quote #9

And Bacchus, glad to see his teacher safe,
rewarded Midas so: the god would give
to Midas anything that he might wish
(a gift both flattering and – if one picks
unwisely – perilous). The king made this
sad choice: "Do grant that anything that is
touched by my body turns to yellow gold."
That prayer was granted by the god, and so
Bacchus discharged the fatal debt he owed. (11.100-104)

Haven't we seen this one before? Maybe we should just make a public service announcement. Gods: don't promise mortals you'll give anything they wish for. Mortals: don't then ask for some ridiculous gift that will bring harm to you and everyone around you. Sheesh. Let's just move on to the next example.

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